Natural grazing behaviour and the benefits

Natural grazing behaviour and the benefits

Sharon Smith MSc (award-winning Entrepreneur Scientist in the Equine Sector) talks about how the Forager mimics natural grazing behaviour and the benefits to the horse.

“If you are not a fast eater, I’m sure you know someone who is. I can clear my dinner plate a long time before my companions, without thinking.  It’s not that I am hungry, my eating rhythm and movement has just developed that way.Why would I have observed that?  Aside from all the years of owning horses and as a SEBC registered equine behaviour consultant, in my post-graduate study I spent many hours observing a range of horses and ponies eating, usingslo-mo video and collecting movement data from sensors on their head.  I got a bit obsessed by the patterns.  Frequency analysis of the sensor data confirmed previous evidence that horses also have a strong, individual rhythm and pattern of movement while grazing[1].


Horses will use their vibrissae (whiskers) and sense of smell[2] to select the next mouthful while chewing on the last one.In time with that chewing rhythm, their highly mobile upper lip will start to manipulate the grassinto a clump such that the incisors can grasp and tear at the stem and leaf[3].  In longer grass, horses will pluck the seed-head, or nudge the plant to one side with their muzzle to bite further down the plant.Horses rip the grass by a quick sideways or backwardsmovement[4], along withtugging upwards in long grass.  They briefly stop chewing while this happens, of course, but in very short grass there is little, if any, pause.Thegrass clump offers a little resistance, but tears readily. 


Rhythm and relaxation in movement are what horses have evolved for.  It conserves energy, and allows them to remain alert to their environment – not actively consideringeating[3].  Grazingallows the horse to stretch and tone the muscles of the ‘topline’ – the upper neck and back – evenly.  It allows the airways to drain.  The chewing stimulates saliva production which helps buffer stomach acid and minimise ulcer formation.  For around 16 hours a day.


Sometimes we must disrupt this activity by removing our horses from pasture.  But to give our trickle-feeding herbivores the best chance of remaining sane and healthy, weneed to mimic natural posture and behaviour[5] safely.  Somethinghaynets do not achieve[6][6].  Perhaps Haygain could make a human version for me too?”



Sharon Smith MSc SEBC(Reg) IEng BHSAPC



[1] Williams, S. H., Vinyard, C. J., Wall, C. E., &Hylander, W. L. (2007). Masticatory motor patterns in ungulates: a quantitative assessment of jaw‐muscle coordination in goats, alpacas and horses. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology307(4), 226-240.

[2] van den Berg, M., Lee, C., Brown, W. Y., &Hinch, G. N. (2016). Does energy intake influence diet selection of novel forages by horses?. Livestock Science186, 6-15.

[3] Hongo, A., & Akimoto, M. (2003). The role of incisors in selective grazing by cattle and horses. The Journal of Agricultural Science140(04), 469-477.

[4] Waring, G. H. (1983). Horse behavior. The behavioral traits and adaptations of domestic and wild horses, including ponies. Noyes Publications. 124-136.

[5] Elia, J. B., Erb, H. N., &Houpt, K. A. (2010). Motivation for hay: effects of a pelleted diet on behavior and physiology of horses. Physiology &behavior101(5), 623-627.

[6] Pickup L. (2017) Efficacy of a novel slow feeding system on intake rate and behaviour in normal and hyper reactive stabled horses. [video of Powerpoint presentation by author] Retrieved from personal files.